Hello everyone! It’s good to be back after two Sundays away. It has been a wild week, one week since a massacre in Orlando. Several of us were here on Wednesday night for a mass in commemoration of the dead, and several more of us were at the candlelight Vigil on Thursday on the University campus.
I’m not going to make Orlando the central topic of today’s sermon. A week on, some of us still need it to be front and center of our attention. Others of us don’t. I’m not sure what the right balance is for today, for these readings, for this community, and for today’s need.
Today, I want to talk instead about clothing.
There’s a saying that you may have heard before: Clothes make the man. Have you heard that? It’s a misquote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Mark Twain twisted the saying with his amazing wit, when he said “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
But just think about clothes and what they represent. Think for a moment of all the uniforms we have. The right clothing allows us to identify a police officer or a flight attendant or a letter carrier for the postal service. Playing a sport, you know who’s on your team based on the clothing they wear.
Judges wear their black robes. Hospital workers wear their scrubs. Clergy wear our cassocks and collars. The clothing is the label, the outward marker of the profession, and it’s very helpful.
Clothes are part of our human story. Nations have their distinctive dress. Very few societies that I can think of forgo clothing of any sort. Humanity is a clothing-wearing species.
So did you notice the poor man in our gospel today? The one who is possessed by the demons called Legion? Did you notice that he is naked at the beginning? Naked, living in the cemetery?
This possession, this occupation by these pesky demons, have literally robbed the man of his humanity.
And this is ultimately a story of a healing. Jesus heals this man and sets him free. In a sense, he sets the demons free as well, if you listened closely. Both the man and the demons beg Jesus to, basically to just leave them alone, not to torment them, not to send them back to the abyss. That’s all too common, my brothers and sisters. When a person has been wounded again and again, it can become nearly impossible for them to see a positive change. There is either the suffering that they know, or a change for the worse.
And so this story is very different from many of the other stories of healing in the Gospels. Think of the others, for a moment: people are always rushing to Jesus, asking for healing, asking for mercy, begging him to help so much that sometimes he has to flee to get away from the crowds. But then this poor man can only beg Jesus not to torment him, ask though he were not already in torment!
So there he sits, naked and afraid, vulnerable and convinced somehow that it cannot get better than this, and can only get worse if Jesus gets involved. Naked and afraid. Unclothed and thus un-human.
Somewhere in our hearts, we’re all a bit like him. Everyone is hurting to some degree, tormented to some degree. Some of us, we know it. We can see it and feel it. Some of us are in denial about it. Some of us managed to live apparently quite comfortable and successful lives, unaware of the ways in which we are still trapped. But just as clothing is part of what it means to be human, so also imprisonment in suffering is part of what it means to be human.
Paul wrote that in his letter to the Galatians. We heard it today: Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
So this is it in a nutshell, as Paul sees it: We are imprisoned, until faith in Christ sets us free. We are trapped, until faith in Christ liberates us. We are set free when we weave our lives into the life of Christ, and this happens in our baptism. And what does Paul tell us about that? “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” There are many ways to understand Baptism, and this is one: when you come up from the font, it is like Christ is a cloak, and you have wrapped it around you. You put on Christ.
So here we are, in a simple way of understanding our life, and life in Christ: we are naked and afraid, like this man in the cemetery, living amongst the dead, bursting free of his chains but never free of his demons, denied all of the beauty and dignity and astounding potential of his created glory.
And then we put on Christ, we are clothed in Christ, we don the uniform that gives us our identity and shows us our true identity, revealed in the one who was perfect God and perfect human. And it is not just our identity. It enables us to see in a new way the shared essential nature that we share with all people. Paul continues: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
“When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”
Clothed with Christ, freed from his demons, and once again fully human.
There are still demons in this world. There are still torments. There is still suffering. Orlando reminds us of that. But in Christ we are set free from the trap and the cycle. We find always a better way to hope and a hopeful way to live, because we remember our own humanity, and the humanity that we share with all other people.
Always this is our anchor, even in times of great grief, and great confusion, and great frustration, and great fear. Indeed this is our anchor especially in these times. When forces of destruction threaten to divide and demolish, the knowledge that we are children of God, clothed with the divine, and one in Christ Jesus keeps us connected to our humanity.
Always our Christ-wrapped humanity shapes our response to great evil. We stand in grief for the dead and wounded of Orlando, and for all acts of violence, because in our shared humanity we can sense the pain of loss. We stand in sympathy and solidarity with LGBTQ community across this country, because in our shared humanity we hear their fear and rage and sorrow. We stand in compassion for the murderer as well, if we can, for in our shared humanity we remember that humanity was not created for that kind of evil.
And yes, that is a challenging thing to do. It would be much easier for us to chain up the evildoers of this world and throw away the key. It is harder to do what Jesus did today, to see the trapped and tormented man within.
But it is possible. Indeed, it is I believe a necessary part of our ministry to this world, to discover how to see the humanity in all people and to love it. Can we say that all 50 of those who died a week ago are our brothers and sisters? The gay people as well as the straight? The people of color as well as the white people? The murderer as well as his victims? “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
For all the dead, for those who mourn, for those who rage, for those who fear, for the LGBTQ community, for the people of Orlando, and for ourselves, we pray Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.